It hasn't been pretty for the New England Patriots (2-0), but nevertheless the team has been able to win the first two games due to the defense forcing turnovers in some key situations. As for the offense, Tom Brady still is trying to find somebody besides Julian Edelman to throw the ball too in a big spot. It did not help last week that the struggles of rookies Kembrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson continued to surface with all the drops that each receiver had.
As for potential reinforcements, tight end Rob Gronkowski is 50-50 for this game as he is still recovering from the back surgery and Danny Amendola will miss two to six weeks with a sports hernia injury that, so far, will not require surgery. This means that the rookies will have another week to try to form some synergy for Brady. Hopefully, the star quarterback will have some more patience with his wide receiver this week. As for the matchup on Sunday(1:00 ET, FOX), the Patriots' opponent has had a circus of their own over the last couple of weeks and is led by another mediocre quarterback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) come into Foxboro after losing their first two games by a total of five points. This is a team that brought in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson to improve their secondary in the offseason against quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in the division. However, the past two weeks have seen Revis needing a 15 minute meeting to clear the air with head coach Greg Schiano about how the former Jets' cornerback is being used. It has seen a division between the head coach and quarterback Josh Freeman as Freeman has seen his captaincy been taken away and has overslept for the team photo. This is still a talented offense, but the quarterback could be the one thing holding Tampa back from being a contender in the NFC South.
Here are my three keys to this Sunday's matchup in Foxboro:
Strand Revis On His Own Island: With the Patirots being used to Darrelle Revis from his time with the Jets, the one thing you know Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will gameplan this week is making sure they keep the ball away from even being near the vicinity of Revis. However, the Bucs' zone defense scheme is a scheme Revis does not like to play in because it takes away from his great man coverage skills. Even though DaShon Goldson's suspension got overturned, the Patriots can still try to gain confidence for Aaron Dobson or Kembrell Thompkins as one of them will likely be matched up against fellow rookie cornerback Jhonathan Banks. Banks is a talented young cornerback, but he isn't Revis Island. When they do catch the ball, Goldson could be waiting for them with a big hit over the middle.
Keep The Muscle Hamster In The Cage: In order for the Patriots' defense to put the game solely in the hands of Josh Freeman, they need to contain Tampa's muscle hamster in the backfield, Doug Martin. Last week, Doug Martin had 144 yards on 29 carries against the New Orleans Saints. Martin does a great job at breaking tackles and picking up extra yards to move the chains. New England struggled to stop the Jets' running attack last Thursday, giving up 129 rushing yards as a team. Which Patriots' rush defense shows up this week? Is it the one that shut down C.J Spiller in Week 1 or could not stop Chris Ivory or Bilal Powell in Week 2? The key will be Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots' linebackers as they will try to contain Martin and put Josh Freeman (45.3% passing) into 3rd and long situations.
Special Teams Not So “Special”: Normally, I wouldn't be keeping my eye on special teams, but the Patriots have another huge injury to that aspect of the game. Kickoff specialist and Pro Bowler Matthew Slater will miss at least a month due to a broken wrist. This is a Patriots' special teams unit that already has issues with its kickoff coverage and the Buccaneers' kick returners (Eric Page, Doug Martin, and Kevin Ogletree) have averaged 31.3 yards per kickoff return. As for kickoff returns for the Patriots, who will be the second man back to take the kickoffs next to 250+ pound guy LeGarrette Blount. I think Blount could play a significant role against his former team, but it will be as a running back and not a kick returner.
As I said at the beginning of the preview, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a talented football team that could be 2-0 if it wasn't for late game mistakes. The Patriots have not shown at this point that they can light up the scoreboard on offense. If Rob Gronkowski does play, I do expect the offense to be better, but not quite at what the last couple of years have been. Tampa Bay has good targets at wide receiver in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams who will make some plays. I said this last week on my radio show: If Josh Freeman was not the quarterback in this game, I would pick the Buccaneers. However, the Patriots build on their +3 turnover ratio in two games and force enough mistakes to pull out another ugly win.
PATRIOTS 20 BUCCANEERS 17